Is Recep Tayyip Erdogan a Vladimir Putin in the making or is he one already? Unlike Mr Putin, Turkey’s prime minister has not taken over a neighbouring country, but when it comes to the love of political power and the need to play the Iron Man to keep a firm hold on it, Mr Erdogan is not found wanting. He has a motto even for the impending local elections: it is “iron will”. Perhaps it was to project the strength of this will that Mr Erdogan recently clamped down a ban on Twitter, a social media site that was proving to be a nuisance to his determined efforts to cleanse the image of his Justice and Development Party or AKP and reinstate moral probity as a cornerstone of his government. Over little more than a year, this avowed principle of the ruling party has been in a shambles following leaks of sex tapes, wiretaps and interactions involving his partymen, some of them cabinet ministers, which showed that the government is knee-deep in corruption. From firing public prosecutors and policemen investigating the allegations to arresting journalists to making laws that allow the executive to supersede the authority of the judiciary, Mr Erdogan has done it all. But social media have continued to play the spoiler by releasing confidential information online; hence the need to kill the messenger together with the uncomfortable messages. But from all indications, Mr Erdogan’s efforts have not paid off. Internet-users found ingenious ways to bypass the ban, which has itself been stayed by the court following a lawsuit filed by Twitter. His desperate effort to pass off “Twitter, schmitter” as evidence of the West’s, that is Europe’s, efforts to make Turkey out to be a political pygmy does not seem to have convinced anyone either at home or abroad.
It is unlikely that Mr Erdogan will emerge from this experience chastened by the power of social media. As in Iran, China and Russia, the social media in Turkey will remain susceptible to the political might and interests of the establishment. The lesson, if any, that this experiment in Turkey throws up is one that the West should consider carefully. Turkey formed the backbone of its operation in Syria and the world looks upon it as proof that political Islam can be liberating. Now that Mr Erdogan’s machismo appears to endanger that, would the West still try to pamper his ego to keep Turkey firmly within its block?